Monday, November 16, 2009

Gubernatorial Straw Votes Greeted Skeptically

One at Knoxville, one at Kingsport draw raised eyebrows.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 12:56 AM

Two recent circumstances — one on the Republican side, one on the Democratic side — have crystallized skepticism concerning the value of straw votes, the kind usually taken at cattle-call receptions for candidates in this or that locality.

The Tennessee Conservative Union held one in Knoxville earlier this month in which the four major Republican gubernatorial candidates were measured. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville won that one with 123 votes; Knoxville Mayor bill Haslam had 80 votes, and Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp had 70. Memphis’ GOP entry, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, had one (count’ em, 1).

That might seem devastating for the Memphian, who also trails the others in fundraising, but, interestingly enough, Gibbons’ Republican rivals concurred at this past weekend’s Pasta & Politics Dinner in Memphis with his own skepticism toward the Knoxville straw poll’s possible meaning.

Most interestingly, Wamp, who has wondered out loud about Gibbons dropping out of the race, pooh-poohed the results as an indicator of Gibbons’ long-range potential.

“All these things don’t really matter in the big scheme of things,” said Wamp “Most often they’re a matter of how many tables a candidate buys, or how many tickets a candidate buys to an event.” The Chattanoogan said a “scientific survey” would give a better idea, and cited one he had done in July, which showed himself leading but the other three candidates — including Gibbons — bunched close behind.

“Gibbons actually was pretty strong in the Memphis media market, and this is a big county,” Wamp said.

He noted, as did the others (and, as had Gibbons himself) that the Memphis D.A. is not from the Knoxville area but will likely have a chance to get better known there.

Bill Haslam, who is from Knoxville and, in fact, serves as the city’s chief executive, said, “I think straw votes are valuable, but it’s always dangerous to read too much into them. They’re fun for everyone,but I wouldn’t read much into them. I wasn’t there, and Bill wasn’t there, either, and he’s not from there.”

Nor would Ramsey, who won that poll, draw too many conclusion ns from it. “I did well, and that’s all I care about,” he said.

And only this past weekend there was a straw poll for Democratic candidates that engendered more skepticism than credibility.

This one was held at a Democratic Party event in Kingsport that was scantily attended – most likely because of a University of Tennessee football game held at the same time on Saturday. Only three gubernatorial candidates attended – Memphis state senator Jim Kyle, Dresden state senator Roy Herron, and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack – and the number of people who gathered to hear them numbered no more than 50, at best.

Yet straw-vote results, based on tickets sold for the pot-luck affair, were given out as follows: Herron, 85; Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, 20; Kyle and Cammack, 12 each; and former state Rep. Kim McMillan, 9. There were 12 votes cast as undecided. All of that totals 150.

Cammack counted 149, and commented on his campaign website:” The Sullivan County Straw Poll. Amazing. 47 people in the room, yet 149 votes cast. And, all counted before the speeches. Hmm. Some attendees denied votes. Subtlety Rating: Unimpressive. And, not worth the drive.”

Kyle was similarly bemused by the announced vote totals and thought of passing along a tweet on the subject but was talked out of it by his aides.

As for Herron, he trumpeted the results in a press release which was headed “Roy Herron Wins 2nd Straight Straw Poll” and which included this sentiment: ““I am humbled and grateful to the voters of Sullivan County. The people here in northeast Tennessee are just like those I represent in middle and west Tennessee: hard-working, family-loving, God-fearing people. I’m grateful for their kindness to me today.”

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